Racing: Macgeorge ready to soar over Summit

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The Independent Online
OVER THE years, many of Victor Chandler's customers have had cause to wonder whether he has a hotline to heaven, and the events of the last week can only reinforce the impression. The chase which carries the bookie's name was supposed to take place last Saturday, and then at yesterday's fogbound Ascot meeting. It will now be run at Kempton this afternoon, which means that Victor will have enjoyed three times the publicity for the same original price. That must be good business, even by bookmakers' standards.

The only drawback from his point of view is that the Victor Chandler Chase - in which the advice is still to have a small each-way interest in Call Equiname (2.35) - is no longer the feature event of the day. Instead, it is the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock which deserves the most attention, as it brings together several chasers who appear to be heading for the top, and another couple who have already made it, most notably Earth Summit, last year's Grand National winner.

The first thing that any shrewd punter will have checked this morning is whether there is a "B" against Earth Summit's name in the racecard. There is, which rather begs the question of why there was not before his last outing, when the absence of the blinkers which are almost as familiar as Earth Summit's silks was offered as an explanation for his dismal run in the Welsh National.

Now that the headgear is back in place, punters who lost out at Chepstow - where Earth Summit started favourite at 9-2 - will be tempted to chase their losses. It could be a dangerous plan, though, since today's three- mile trip is very much a minimum, even if the going is testing. As a venerable campaigner, Earth Summit is also required to give weight to some up-and- coming opponents, and it is likely that at least one of them will prove too strong.

But which one? Calling Wild, Random Harvest and Macgeorge all arrive at Haydock with progressive form behind them. Calling Wild beat 25 rivals in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, and did so in the manner of a very useful chaser, while Random Harvest won the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

But while their claims are a little more obvious than those of Macgeorge (2.15), they are not necessarily any better. Richard Lee's runner did not stay in the Welsh National last time, but is only 2lb higher than when he finished a close second to Tamarindo in a strong race at Cheltenham. At 7-1, he is worth another chance.

The supporting card at Haydock is almost as good, with Deano's Beeno, who is favourite in some lists for the Stayers' Hurdle at the Festival, taking on Moorish in the Long Distance Hurdle, and several hurdlers of real potential lining up for a Champion Hurdle Trial which just might be worthy of the name. Deano's Beeno (1.45) should justify favouritism, but Bellator (2.45), having his first run for Venetia Williams, can deny Martin Pipe a double.

Kempton too has its attractions, with Fadalko (2.05), another who did not stay last time out, and Davoski (3.10) worth an interest in the handicaps, but it is Leopardstown which can lay claim to the weekend's best race. The Irish Champion Hurdle was Istabraq's prep-race for the Festival last year, and the reigning champion is odds-on with the local layers for a repeat tomorrow.

Yet there was nothing in the line-up 12 months ago to compare with French Holly, who is the second-favourite not just for tomorrow's race, but the Champion Hurdle itself. He won the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in a canter - albeit with Dato Star, his most significant opponent, running no sort of race - and has answered every serious question asked of him to date.

His preparation has also been trouble-free, which, to judge by the suspension of betting on the race this week, may not have been the case with Istabraq. In the circumstances, and bearing in mind that Aidan O'Brien is training his runner for Cheltenham, not Leopardstown, the odds against French Holly (2.45) are impossible to ignore. A price of 11-8 would be fair, so 2-1 is simply asking to be taken, while a small ante-post bet for Cheltenham might look clever in two months' time.